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Imposter Syndrome In Medical School | Medical Student Advice

You always see those TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy where everyone looks like a badass and comes in to save the day. They always know what to do and bring the patient back from the clasps of death. They always have the answers and it all just seems like it comes so easy to them. You want to be that doctor one day, you want to be that badass surgeon and you sure can. 

The Symptoms

You work your tail off to get into medical school and you’re well on your way. And that is when you can start to feel what they call “Imposter Syndrome”. Getting into medical school is a very difficult thing to do, both statistically and in reality. So if you’ve gotten this far, be proud of yourself. Once you get in however, it’s easy to compare yourself to other people around you. You also realize that you are once again at the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to medicine. You know nothing, and you won’t feel like you know anything for a while, and to top it all off, you can’t show that. 

You start to hear about all the incredible things your classmates accomplished before med school or even as a means to get into medical school. You try to smile and congratulate them but that type A in everyone just comes out. You can’t help but compare and feel like you are less than. These people accomplished things in athletics, in research, in mission trips and god knows what. It leaves you feeling like you just got lucky. That you don’t “truly” deserve to be here. That they’ll pull the rug from under you and tell you they made a mistake letting you in. 

When it comes to the medical material itself, it can seem like it comes so easy to everyone else. They seem to remember things from blocks ago, while you struggle to remember the fact that we have two kidneys. There is very little direct clinical experience in the first two years so you can feel quite removed from being a doctor. The more you learn, you realize the less you know. You try and imagine yourself with a patient’s life in your hands and its a scary thought knowing that you wouldn’t know a damn thing in that situation. No one else shows that they are struggling, so you can feel like you are alone. 

If this sounds like the story of your life, it should go to show you that you are not alone. All medical students and health care professionals feel this way at one point or another. I mean, who are we to have people’s lives in our hands? Me? The guy who missed a step and fell down the stairs a few weeks ago? The guy that dropped grade 11 physics with a 31% in the class? Yes, me. We have had lecturers 20 years into their career tell us that they still feel this way today. So believe me, there is nothing wrong with you for feeling this way.

The Treatment

1. Talk About It

It can be tough to find people that you trust and like in medical school, in such a highly competitive environment. If you are lucky enough to make a few close friends, share these feelings with them. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, call your old friends from back home, or your family, or professional help from your school. Talking these things out can help to make you feel like you are not alone (which you’re not).

2. Seek Mentors

As we mentioned, every medical student goes through these feelings at one point or another so it is important to seek attendings, residents and upper year students as mentors. Seek their expertise on how they dealt with these feelings and what you can do to help address the problem. 

3. Have realistic expectations

No one is the perfectly well put together version of themselves that they try to present. Everyone has their own problems and struggles so stop trying to be this perfect person that does not exist. No one is expecting you to perform an emergency trach as a first year medical student so take a breath. Do the best you can and keep it moving, things will come together soon enough.

4. Use it as motivation

Stress and a little bit of anxiety can be a good thing if used the right way. Allow these feelings to motivate you to work a little hard and put in a little more effort that you have in the tank but weren’t deploying earlier. This doesn’t mean over extend yourself and burn out, just try to make the best out of a bad situation. 

5. Be Patient

Medicine truly is lifelong learning. There is a reason it takes so long to become an attending physician and the need to continue learning doesn’t end there. So take it all in and just go one day at a time trusting that it’ll all come together as long as you put in the effort.

Imposter syndrome is a very common thing amongst medical students and we hope that you are better able to deal with it now.


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